Category: Teen

Jess, Chunk and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

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Jess, Chunk and the Road Trip to Infinity by Kristin Elizabeth Clark (InfoSoup)

Jess hasn’t spoken with her father for years, ever since he refused to support her in getting the hormones she needed to start to transition from the male body she was born in. Now her father is getting married to her mother’s ex-best friend halfway across the country in Chicago and Jess decides to attend the wedding and confront her father. It’s going to be a surprise for her father, since she had already responded rather negatively to the RSVP in the invitation. Happily, Jess’ best friend Chunk has both a car and time, so the two of them make the road trip together. As the trip unwinds, they visit roadside attractions, pick up a passenger, and discover things about themselves, their friendship and one another.

This book joins many others this year in providing strong transgender characters in teen novels. Clark does a great job of showing how safety is a huge concern for people who are transgender, particularly in more conservative parts of the country. She also shows what a long-standing friendship looks like as it leaves high school and heads into the future. There is little angst about the future here in terms of college or school, and more of a focus on the approaching wedding and Jess’ feelings.

Happily, Jess as a character is far from perfect. She is often self-absorbed and lacks interest in others, particularly her best friend. Readers will be shocked at times by how internally focused she is and will cheer when her best friend finally stands up to her. Jess also ignores how she makes other people feel, like the nickname bullies gave Chunk that she continues to use.

However, even as I understand that the nickname and Jess’ behavior is both condemned and indicative of a complicated look at a character, I do have issues with how larger people are viewed in the book and how much emphasis is placed on how people look. There is a focus on hair and clothes that is near obsessive. But it’s the fat shaming that is problematic, particularly when it’s in the title itself. The fat shaming happens both for Chuck, the best friend, and for others throughout the book. People are referred to by their size, their looks and then their personality comes later.

A complex look at friendship, being transgender, self esteem and acceptance, this book tackles a lot of issues and fails to handle a major one with enough grace and attention. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

 

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (InfoSoup)

A finalist for the National Book Award, this book for teens is exceptional. It is the story of two teens, Daniel and Natasha who meet one another through a series of events. Daniel, a poet, firmly believes in love at first sight and destiny bringing them together. Natasha though does not, believing in science and what is provable. The day is a big day for both of them. Natasha’s family is being deported back to Jamaica that night unless she can figure out a way to stop it. Daniel is being interviewed for Yale, a school and a career path that his Korean parents have chosen for him. When the two meet, the chemistry is palpable, but the timing is horrible. Daniel decides that he can prove to Natasha that love is real and measurable, but can he do it in time with their deadlines working against them both?

I can see why this book is getting all of the attention and praise that it is. It’s an amazing read, filled with possibility and the sense that the universe may just be on our side sometimes. It’s filled with romance and chemistry. The prose has a lightness that is exceptional, creating space for these two amazing characters to meet, breathe, and tumble head over heels in love with one another.

Meanwhile, it is also a story of New York City. It’s a story of immigration and illegal immigrants, of losing a culture and then losing the dream of America as well. It’s a story of overt racism and the new generation of teens who see beyond that and into hearts. It’s a story of profound loss, of parental betrayal, of hope that manages to rise again and again.

A book perfect for today, this teen novel is a voice of hope despite our challenges and loving through it all. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

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Scythe by Neal Shusterman (InfoSoup)

Released November 22, 2016.

Set in a future where death no longer exists for humans, the only way to die is to be selected at random to be gleaned by a Scythe. Scythes live separately from other people and want for nothing though they usually live minimally. When Scythe Faraday appears in Citra’s home, her life changes even though he is only there for a meal and not to glean anyone in her family. Faraday also visits Rowan’s school where he gleans the school’s football star. Faraday then selects Citra and Rowan to serve as his apprentices and compete for the honor of becoming a scythe. However, there are forces at work in the scythe web of power that will set Citra and Rowan truly against one another and call into question everything that the scythes have been built upon. Citra and Rowan must figure out how to maneuver through the political and personal intrigue and survive.

Shusterman has created a future that many of us would say is a utopia, one where no one dies. Against that vivid and bright wonder he has created killing machines, people who glean or  murder with a personal touch that is horrifying, unsettling and all too real and logical. Shusterman has built a world that is striking and vivid. He has teens who kill themselves just to be restored to life again. He has elderly people who can reset their age back to their twenties again and again, so no one knows how old people actually are. It is a society both free from death and still obsessed with it.

Shusterman at the heart of the novel is also asking what makes us human. And could it be that mortality itself is a vital part of our lives? Is that what makes us musicians, artists and lifelong learners? It is against this dearth of art and knowledge that Citra and Rowan are growing up, looking forward to nothing in life other than its inevitability and endlessness. Then they are made scythe apprentices and the world shifts to something dark and dangerous. Suddenly though, they are alive.

Brilliant and complex, this novel asks real questions about life, death and the ability to murder for society. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Simon & Schuster.

 

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

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Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter (InfoSoup)

When the nights in Brooklyn seem to be getting longer and longer, lasting almost entire days, Vassa finds herself looking forward to school just not to be home any longer. Part of it is her stepmother and stepsisters and part is pure boredom. It doesn’t help that Erg, the wooden doll that Vassa’s mother gave her before she died, is stealing things from her stepsisters which are then blamed on Vassa. So when one of her stepsisters basically dares Vassa to head to the dangerous local convenience store, Vassa accepts the challenge. She heads to Babs Yagg’s store, the one that dances on chicken legs and that you have to sing down. She makes sure that Erg is with her, as always, and knows that she is in for an unusual experience. What Vassa doesn’t realize is that she is headed straight into her dangerous destiny and will discover an entire magical world that she never knew existed: one with bleeding swans, a dark motorcyclist, severed hands, and beheaded teens.

Inspired by the Russian folktale, Vassilissa the Beautiful, this novel for teens embraces all of the strange and bizarre in that story and takes it even further. Baba Yaga’s home on chicken feet becomes an amazing convenience store filled with some treats that are tempting and others that seem odd and still others that nauseate. The modern Babs Yagg is still very much a witch, and one that toys with her prey in haunting and excruciating ways. There are impossible tasks, the need for plenty of bravery, and real loss and death threatened at every turn.

This is a mesmerizing book, one that is filled with gorgeous writing that stays out of its own way and then rises beautifully to create new moods. Throughout the book the story turns briefly away and into other perspectives like those of the swans themselves or of the attorneys who are after Babs. The language changes and weaves new patterns, creating completely different worlds and experiences and then gently carrying the reader back to the main story. It’s a powerful magic all its own.

Beautifully written, this twist on a folktale is bizarre, wild and extraordinary. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Tor Teen.

 

 

2016 Teens’ Top Ten

YALSA has announced the Teens’ Top Ten for 2016. Nominees are currently being taken through December 31st for the 2017 Teens’ Top Ten list. Teens aged 12-18 can nominate their picks here.

Here are the 2016 Teens’ Top Ten:

Alive All the Bright Places

Alive by Chandler Baker

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Every Last Word Everything, Everything

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

The Game of Love and Death Illuminae (The Illuminae Files, #1)

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

The Novice (Summoner, #1) Six of Crows (Six of Crows, #1)

The Novice: Summoner: Book One by Taran Matharu

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls When

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

When by Victoria Laurie

 

There is also a video:

March: Book 3 by John Lewis

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March: Book 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (InfoSoup)

This is the final book in this amazing graphic novel trilogy. Congressman John Lewis concludes his story of the Civil Rights marches, providing real context to the Black Lives Matter movement of today. This book begins with the bombing of the church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four young girls. It shows the fight for the ability to vote in Alabama for African Americans who were forced to take tests or just ignored as they tried to register to vote. The book culminates with the march in Selma and the violence that accompanied it and most importantly the changes it created.

I can’t say enough good things about this series. It brings critical Civil Rights history directly to teens in a format that is engaging. There is no way to turn away from the violence of the response of those in power as blood flows in the images on the pages. It makes it all the more powerful that the marches stayed nonviolent and focused on pacifism. Lewis himself voices again and again how much pressure there was at times in the movement to react more violently and how that was managed by himself and others. It is a testament to people willing to put their own bodies and lives at risk for progress.

The illustrations are riveting. Done in black and white, they effectively play darkness and light against one another, adding to the drama of the situations they depict. At times they are haunting and blaze with tragedy. The opening scenes of the Birmingham church are filled with tension and sadness that make it difficult to turn the pages and witness what happens.

These are the books our teens need right now. Every public library should have this series, no matter what races are represented in your community. This is our shared history and one that we cannot deny or turn away from. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

 

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

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The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis (InfoSoup)

Alex has never been the same since her older sister was murdered three years earlier. She finally started to feel something when her sister’s killer went free. Alex’s response to that was vengeance and murder and now Alex knows that she can’t ever leave the small town she has grown up in since it would not be safe for those around her. She just wants to go through the rest of her life with her head down and not be noticed. Inadvertently though, she starts to make a friend. Peekay, short for Preacher’s Kid, volunteers at the animal shelter with Alex and slowly they become friends. Peekay enjoys drinking and fooling around and brings Alex into a social group where she had never belonged before. Meanwhile, Jack is finding it impossible to keep Alex out of his head despite the attentions of another girl who uses him on the side of her own relationship. Still, Alex may have been better off isolated as her violence starts to emerge again.

Wowza. This book blew me away from the aspects of both content and writing. McGinnis writes with a beauty that is surprising and enticing. Her words capture emotions with an intensity that has the reader feeling them at a visceral level. Here is Alex in Chapter 11 describing losing her sister:

It swings from twine embedded so deeply that my aorta has grown around it. Blood pulses past rope in the chambers of my heart, dragging away tiny fibers until my whole body is suffused and pain is all I am and ever can be.

McGinnis keeps her writing filled with tension, desire, understanding and amazement. She recognizes the incredible need for connection that we have even as we destroy as well. This is humanity on the page in all of its complexity.

It is also feminism, a feminism that burns and blazes, one that looks beyond makeup and clothing to the women and girls underneath. It is a feminism that speaks to the anger inside that wants to fight and battle the darkness in society, the brutality against women and the dangers that surround girls. And because it speaks clearly to that anger, it is breathtaking in its audaciousness, in the actions that Alex takes, and the bravery and violence she embodies.

Violent and beautiful, this novel is about the complexities of being female and alive. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from HarperCollins and Edelweiss.